Eden in the Wilderness
Steep and jagged cliffs ring the western shore of the Dead Sea guarding the entrance to the Judaean Desert (Hebrew: מִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה Midbar Yehuda). The geographical term for the Judaean Desert is a “rainshadow desert”. Rainshadow deserts occur in many places on the earth and are formed when prevailing westerly winds from the sea bring moisture laden air inland. As the air rises to pass over the hills of Judah, the moisture condenses as rain and falls on the windward side of the mountains. By the time the air mass reaches the leeward (or eastward) side of the Judaean hills, ie, the Dead Sea region, (better known as the Salt Sea (Hebrew yam HaMelahch: ים המלח) the air is dry and no rainfall occurs. [The avg. rainfall for the Salt Sea region is less than 2 inches per year.]
Nestled in the midst of these towering limestone cliffs dotted with small caves is the oasis of Engedi or Ein Gedi: עֵ֥ין גֶּֽדִי (Heb: aiyn gedi). Aiyn means ‘eye’, but it also means ‘spring’ – like a spring of water. [It is also a letter of the Hebrew alphabet (ע).] Gedi means a goat kid (or baby). So Ein Gedi is basically the spring of the baby goats referring to the Ibex which make their home on the rock cliffs. The waters of an oasis originate deep within the earth and flow up to the earth’s surface and therefore do not depend upon rain water. Thus, the Engedi oasis can exist in a rainshadow desert and provide fresh water for the Ibex and many other animals of the region.
According to 1 Samuel 24, David sought refuge from King Saul in the “strongholds of Engedi”. The word ‘strongholds’ does not refer to a fortress, but rather to the natural topography of the sheer cliffs that mark the region. In one of the many limestone caves that pocket this region, David also spared King Saul’s life as detailed in the 1 Samuel 24 narrative.
There is a parallel spiritual component to every life experience and God uses everything that happens to us in the physical realm to teach us lessons in the spiritual realm. Since the desert is a place of limited resources (ie, food, water), it has often been used by God as a training ground to develop in His people faith in Him as their all sufficient provider. God allowed David to spend ten years hiding in the Judaean Desert from King Saul before he actually became King of Israel. Why? God was developing character traits in David that he would need as king and that could only be learned in the ‘desert areas of life’.
God declares many times in His Word that He is able to bring forth water (always a symbol of fruitfulness) in desert areas. Isaiah writes, “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart… for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” (Isa. 35:6) One of my favorite verses has become Isaiah 58:11, “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Surely Isaiah was thinking of Ein Gedi when he wrote this powerful verse. The spiritual meaning is a great comfort. When our soul is “in drought” … when we are in the desert of life where resources are very limited … God HIMSELF will provide our needs. He is our garden to rest and regain strength. And Isaiah says God will do this CONTINUALLY (Hebrew תָּמִיד֒ – tah-mid). God desires to be our inward source to satisfy our soul even in the most severe trials that come our way. He does not want us to be dependent upon external circumstances for our peace and joy, but only upon Himself! So, He sends us to the desert, like He did David, in order to strip the external things from our life so that we can learn that we do not need them anyway. We only need Him. He is our ‘Eden in the wilderness’.